Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Lehi's Life in the Wilderness

Some may think that Lehi went into the wilderness with nothing and lived a most minimal life for eight years; however, the nomadic way of life was not unknown to those of Lehi’s day, and many spent the majority of their lives living the nomadic life. 
    Nephi tells us: “And he left his house, and the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver, and his precious things, and took nothing with him, save it were his family, and provisions, and tents, and departed into the wilderness” (1 Np3hi 2:4). Thus, when Lehi left his home outside Jerusalem and all his wealth, he would have taken with him, as his “provisions,” much of his comfort life style, including everyday living items, as well as animals (donkeys) to carry it, and probably goats to provide milk and food along the way, for rarely would Hebrews have traveled without such.
    The fact that he had tents at his disposal suggests a history of his being in the desert, for those permanently living in and around Jerusalem had little use for tents and going into the desert in a nomadic life style. That Lehi did is obvious by his having tents and camping equipment to sustain his and his family’s life as they left the land of his inheritance. In addition, the fact that he was a wealthy man also suggests that he had many items of comfort for his day.
    To the modern man, living eight years in a tent in the wilderness or desert strikes as a constant sacrifice of comfort and living conditions; however, to the nomad of history, such was a way of life. Even for those who had permanent residences, they were not far removed from a nomadic existence.
    Numerous Biblical personalities, such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David and others, lived such a lifestyle. Certainly, a nomadic life was more common in the Middle East than was that of living in houses in a city or village.
As an example, at the time of Lehi (600 B.C.), it is estimated that not much more than 12,000 to 15,000 people lived in Jerusalem, since the Babylonian exile in 597 B.C. removed some 10,000, which was considered to be a “sizeable amount” of the total population. Based on figures of about 2000 at the time David captured the old Jebusite city, and 6000 to 8000 around 700 B.C., some historian’s views of 20,000 to 25,000 in 600 B.C. simply does not match the economic concentrations in Jerusalem at the time of Lehi.
    While numerous scholars consider 600 B.C. an axial period that shaped the contours of civilizations for centuries to come, nomadic life was still the traditional norm for communities in the southern Levant. These nomads, living in tents and traveling from location to location in search of water and pastures for their livestock, first began in the Arabian Peninsula, and has been a custom or practice dating back to the days shortly after Noah (Yehmenis claim descendancy from Qahtan [Joktan—second son of Eber], and remained the majority of the population during the first half of the 20th century.
The home of the nomad was the wilderness—often dry and arid but with an occasional oasis, river, water basin and pastures. The nomad was as much at home in the wilderness as modern man is in his 21st century environment. He also knew the area very well in which he traveled—knowing where all the water sources were, where pastures were located at different times of the year and all the landmarks that directed him on his travels.
    Rain, of course, was and is the most important element to the nomad as without it, he, his family, his flocks and herds cannot survive. Since each area received rain at different times of the year and in different locations, it was the chief's (sheik) responsibility to ensure that they were at the right places at the right times. The rains may be locale providing water and pasture but may also be very distant, which could flood the rivers causing them to overflow and watering the grounds near the rivers within their area of travels. It was important, and often imperative, for the chief to lead his charges to the place where water was available for family and livestock. It was one of the reasons why the chief had such power and authority over those who followed him. Thus, movement of the entire camp meant daily travel from one water hole to another, often three or four days before stopping again and pitching the tents, as Nephi describes (1 Nephi 2:6; 16:13, 17, 33). At such stops, the party would rest up, Nephi hunted, food cooked or dried, and water bags would have been refilled for the next leg of the journey.
The nomad lived a very simple life and because of their constant travels they could not carry a great amount of supplies and equipment. Their major possession was the tent made of goat hair, the poles, stakes and ropes for supporting the tent, a curtain to divide the tent into two or three parts (including male and female sides) and a carpet for the floor. The nomads wealth was measured by the size of his flocks and herds which supplied him with most of his needs including milk, meat, skin, hair for tents, horns for trumpets and liquid containers and many other odds and ends.
The Bedouin cherished what few possessions he carried. Lehi would have had nice things to bring along that served a functional need, such as cooking pots and serving dishes, as well as goat skin water bags 
    His cooking supplies and equipment consisted pot and pans for cooking and serving food; bags made of skins for carrying water, or food reserves such as grains and dried fruits; a few utensils such as spoons, knives and bowls; and a grinding mill for making flour out of grains. He also carried some harvesting supplies such as sickles and mattocks to gather crops when available. For defense he also carried weapons such as the bow and arrow, slings, spears and knives. Many of his weapons were used for other purposes such as hunting, knives for butchering, mattocks for planting and building, and the tent poles, which were sharp at one end for spears.
A nomadic camp consisted of about 30 to 50 members. Any less and it would be difficult to protect the family and much more would be difficult to feed. Usually the oldest member of the family was the head, or chief (sheik), of the clan. The remainder of the clan would consist of his brothers, sons, nephews and grandsons as well as their wives and small children. The loyalties of such groups are found in the old nomadic saying: “I against my brother, my brothers and I against my cousins, then my cousins and I against strangers."
    Each clan was an independent entity with the chief as judge and ruler. He had the ultimate authority in all manners including where they went, discipline, management of the flocks and herds and the daily tasks of the camp. When a clan became too large to support it, it was divided into clans and separated with all of the clans belonging to one tribe. The name of the tribe was generally that of the original family patriarch and each clan carried the name of its own original patriarch (thus we have Lehites, Nephites, Lamanites, etc.)
The nomads diet consisted of breads, fruits (when available), milk, cheese and meat. Grains, such as barley and wheat, were gathered and ground into a flour and mixed with water and placed on hot rocks to make bread. Some of the fruits available were grapes, pomegranates, olives and dates. These were often dried for later use and sometimes mixed with flour for a cake-type bread. Milk was taken from the sheep and goats and also used to make cheese. Animals from the flock were occasionally butchered especially for special events such as when guests arrived, but not on a regular basis.
    Olives were not only used as a food source but for medicinal purposes as well—they were eaten or mixed in a drink for stomach and intestinal problems and applied to wounds as an antiseptic. The fat of animals was made into a soap, pomegranate for inflammation, garlic against infection, dates for anemia, colds, sore throat, fever and a healthy heart. In addition, ground date seeds cured skin allergies, powdered seed treated gout, and date gum treated diarrhea.
For social functions, the men would often gather together, usually at meal times, to discuss past events, needs, locations and other details of operating the camp. The women gathered together to prepare foods, make clothing and make tent repairs. Storytelling was probably one of the most important forms of entertainment. The older members of the clan would tell the stories of their history to the children in order to pass on the experiences of the tribe and clans to the next generation—we find this interwoven throughout the Book of Mormon accounts.
    The religion of the nomads is very different from modern man’s understanding of religion. The whole of the nomadic life was their religion. As the nomad’s very existence was dependent upon rain he understood that his life was in God's hands at all times. The nomad saw the power, justice, love and mercy of God in all things and conversely all of his activities, from eating to making shelter, was seen as a service to God. The nomad lived in harmony with his surroundings and understood as being one with God who created all things. In short, his life was one long prayer to God.
The Nomad’s tent was far more comfortable than any modern camping arrangement. When they stopped for a time, they pitched their tents and placed their belongings inside, including what finery they possessed
    To the nomad, his tent was his home—and on those occasions when Lehi stopped for rest after a few days travel, the tent provided shade from the sun, and during the strong heat of the day, the leader would often sit at his door watching his family, livestock and the road for travelers (Genesis 18.1,2). In addition, trhe walls of the tent could be lifted to allow the breeze to pass through the tent, and to ward off the cold, the black goat-hair tent absorbed heat during the day, keeping the tent warm at night. A fire, when one was built, was just inside the door for warmth.
    None of this is meant to lessen the trials encountered by the party as they traveled and lived in the wilderness for eight years; however it is meant to show that Lehi and his family were not depraved in their living style, but were well accustomed to such a life and had with them all that was necessary to sustain that life and make it as comfortable as possible under the circumstances.
As they traveled toward Bountiful, their numbers grew, ultimately reaching more than fifty; and when they camped, they had the Bedouin nomadic flare for comfort and ease. Their lives were difficult and hard by modern standards, but normal and workable by the standards of their day—“And we did travel and wade through much affliction in the wilderness"

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